FAC Partners with California News Fellowship Program to Support Early-Career Journalists

FAC led an in-depth training on accessing public records and covering public meetings for the California Local News Fellowship.

The State-Funded Fellowship Supports Local Newsrooms in California

Communities need local journalists. And local journalists need allies who have their backs. 

That’s why the First Amendment Coalition was proud to team up with the California Local News Fellowship, providing custom training sessions and other resources to the program’s first group of early-career reporters as they got started reporting in local newsrooms across the state. 

The fellowship program, a new state-funded initiative administered by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, aims to address the crisis in local news by adding reporting resources in California communities. 

To contribute to the program’s talent-development component, FAC Advocacy Director Ginny LaRoe and FAC Legal Director David Loy developed in-depth sessions on accessing public records and covering public meetings. The sessions also introduced the fellows to FAC’s free legal resources and mentors they can turn to throughout their careers.

Michelle Zacarias, a news fellow reporting for CALÓ NEWS, a project of the Latino Media Collaboration, said she appreciated FAC’s session titled “Unlocking Public Records in California.”

“That was probably one of the trainings that I enjoyed the most because it didn’t feel like we were just conceptualizing or talking about things in theory,” Zacarias said. “It felt like a tangible skill that I could use and apply right away.”

In addition to providing an overview of the California Public Records Act and the Brown Act’s open-meeting protections, FAC’s sessions offered watchdog reporting strategies and insights from rising-star journalists. Omar Rashad, government accountability reporter for Fresnoland, shared tips for using public records to tell important stories through an equity lens. And the Washington Post’s Trisha Thadani gave insights from her years of covering local government in San Francisco. Both committed to ongoing mentorship for the Fellows.

Monserrat Solis, a news fellow reporting for BenitoLink in Hollister in San Benito County, said the trainings will be useful as she reports on how rapid growth and development affect the longtime Black, brown, and indigenous county residents. She envisions using public records to examine how campaign contributions from developers might influence the city council races. 

“I think connecting us with organizations like the FAC is really great,” Solis said.

A goal of the fellowship program is to add reporting resources in underserved communities and recruit fellows with a range of professional and personal backgrounds.

Philip Salata, a fellow covering environment and energy in San Diego and Imperial Counties for inewsource, was raised by parents who emigrated from Poland as political refugees in 1984. He said he felt an affinity with Spanish-speaking immigrants in his ESL classes growing up, and has taken an interest in writing about immigration and the borderlands. 

In college, he did stories about U.S. asylum policy and other social and cultural issues in the border region. “My experience coming from a white Polish immigrant family was different,” Salata said. “Over the years, I’ve had to contextualize and think more critically about that, seeing that [immigration issues] are not single-story questions, and that they exist in their particularities.” 

After participating in FAC’s trainings, Salata said he felt like he had new allies to call upon to support his reporting.

“What moves me about the work of the coalition is they’re a reminder that you’re not alone in that process,” Salata said.

For more information about FAC’s custom open-government and press rights trainings for journalists or our community education programs for the general public, contact us at: FAC@firstamendmentcoalition.org.  

The fellowship is now accepting applications from California newsrooms to host a member of the next cohort of fellows. The deadline for newsrooms to apply is December 13. Learn more and apply here.